As we continue in the 12 Days from Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Jesus to Epiphany, which remembers both the arrival of the Magi (or Wise Ones) to Jesus as a small child and the baptism of Jesus, I thought it would be good to share a poem about the Continuing Incarnation, which is the task of our lives at least for those of us who ascribe to Christian faith.
Incarnation means a taking on a flesh and bone, blood and heart. It is the technical term in theology for the miracle Christians believe happened in the Christmas story: in a unique and complete way, God took of flesh and blood, bone and heart, in the life of the man of Nazareth, Jesus son of Mary and Joseph. Somehow in his life he embodied the life and love of God in a way that endures through the ages, demonstrating in his life, his teachings, his death, and his follower’s later experience of him alive beyond death through an experience they called “resurrection” who God is for each of us and who we all can be.
Yet far from pointing to some special uniqueness of Jesus, this experience of Incarnation is a call for each of us to in our own way join that man Jesus in the journey of Incarnation. We, too, can become ones in whose live the guiding lovingkindness which can shape our days, which Christians call “God”, can take on flesh and blood, bone and heart. By living out this same lovingkindness in our own incomplete way we too can become embodiments of the grace and justice which Jesus revealed in his life: grace as the lovingkindness which surrounds every life freely, before and besides anything good or bad we can do, which calls all people and all creation into an embrace of loving acceptance. Lovingkindness also as the way in which we are called to treat ourselves, other people, and all living things. And justice which is, as Dr. Martin Luther King once said, a tearing down in our own life every barrier we encounter within ourselves, our relationships, our life together in our community to that lovingkindness being fully expressed to ourselves, to other people of all types, to all living things in the web of life which surrounds us.
St. Paul called this ongoing Incarnation being “the Body of Christ”.
Interestingly enough, this concept does not just exist in Christianity. In Buddhism, we see this in the promise in some strains of Buddhism that some can develop a “Buddha mind”, an enlightened awareness of the interconnectedness of all of life which flows forth into compassion. In Tibetan Buddhism the ultimate expression of this is the image of the bodhisattva, the one who discovers enlightenment yet chooses not to leave the mortal realm fully but reach back in various ways to help those stuck in life in this world find similar spiritual freedom.
This exists also in Islam, and is beautifully expressed in the poem of Muslim mystic, Rumi, called “The Body is Like Mary”. May its words draw you more deeply into asking the question of how you can continue to allow God to put on flesh and blood through your life.
“The body is like Mary and each of us has a Jesus inside.
Who is not in labour, holy labour?
Every creature is.
See the value of true art when the earth or a soul is in the mood to create beauty,
for the witness might then for a moment know beyond
any doubt, God is really there within,
so innocently drawing life from us with Her umbilical universe,
though also needing to be born, yes God also needs to be born, birth from a hand’s loving touch, birth from a song breathing life into this world.
The body is like Mary, and each of us, each of us, has a Christ within.”
Your progressive redneck preacher,